2022 New Year's Resolutions for NBA's Biggest Disappointments
A new year means a fresh start for NBA players and teams, especially with more than half the regular season still to be played.
There's no shortage of stars and franchises that have disappointed thus far, with teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers and Boston Celtics who have woefully underperformed.
Whether it's a promise to get into better playing shape, a commitment to defense, changes coaches need to implement or other improvements, resolutions are in store for the league's biggest letdowns.
Luka Doncic: Get into the Best Shape of His Career
Losing weight or simply getting in better shape is the goal of many when the calendar hits January, and perhaps no player in the NBA could benefit more from this than Luka Doncic.
While his raw numbers (25.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 8.5 assists) suggest whatever he's doing is working just fine, even Doncic has admitted his conditioning isn't where it needs to be.
"I had a long summer," Doncic said in early December, per ESPN's Tim McMahon. "I had the Olympics, took three weeks off, and I relaxed a little bit. Maybe too much. I've just got to get back on track."
McMahon reported that Doncic showed up at training camp at 260 pounds, despite the team listing him at 230.
Even though he's still producing at an MVP level, Doncic's lack of conditioning is clearly a factor as he gets deeper into games. Here's how the 22-year-old's numbers stack up by quarter:
- First quarter: 7.9 points, 47.0 percent shooting, plus-2.0 net rating
- Second quarter 5.8 points on 45.7 percent shooting, minus-3.0 net rating
- Third quarter: 6.9 points on 43.9 percent shooting, minus-11.2 net rating
- Fourth quarter: 5.6 points on 43.6 percent shooting, minus-13.3 net rating
The first quarter, when he's physically fresh, is when Doncic peaks. As the game wears on, his shooting efficiency and net rating both decrease every single quarter, and Doncic also has his lowest usage rate (33.6 percent) in the fourth.
We've recently witnessed Nikola Jokic drop a significant amount of weight only to turn into the league's MVP. If Doncic does the same this coming offseason, we could see him elevate to the league's Most Valuable Player in 2022-23.
Los Angeles Lakers: Find a Better Roster Fit Around LeBron James
At 17-19 and seventh in the West, the Lakers have easily been one of the season's biggest disappointments. Injuries to LeBron James and now Anthony Davis have played a part, but this is still a dysfunctional group that largely reached its prime a decade ago.
As talented as Davis and Russell Westbrook are, this team still revolves around James, even at age 37. Given this, Rob Pelinka and Frank Vogel need to do a better job complementing his strengths as a driver and passer while limiting his court time with those who don't match his style.
Westbrook is the obvious initial concern, although the Lakers are nearly identical whether James is on the court with the veteran point guard (plus-1.0 net rating) or running the show by himself (plus-0.7). James is also shooting better (53.8 percent compared to 46.9 percent) with Westbrook in the game.
Instead, L.A. should look to move Talen Horton-Tucker for a three-and-D wing if it can find one.
The Lakers' best young trade piece has struggled sharing the floor with his star teammates and offers little floor spacing with a 22.1 percent mark from three. The team's net rating improves by 2.6 points with James in the game and Horton-Tucker on the bench, compared to when both are on the court.
Even exploring trades for role players who can either shoot, defend or both would help the Lakers climb back up the standings. Players like Kenrich Williams, Mike Muscala, Justin Holiday and Torrey Craig would all be extremely helpful.
Ditching the two-big-man lineups and letting Davis start at center on a full-time basis for the rest of the year is a must as well.
Boston Celtics: Add Some Much-Needed Shooting
Two seasons ago, the Celtics were in the Eastern Conference Finals. Today, they sit at 16-19 and in 10th place in the East.
Splitting up the star duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown should remain on the back burner, even if it wouldn't hurt to listen to phone calls. Instead, Brad Stevens' resolution should be to add some shooters to this roster.
Grant Williams is the only rotation player shooting above 38.1 percent from three, with two starters (Al Horford and Marcus Smart) connecting on 29.2 percent or worse of their attempts. A third starter, Robert Williams III, hasn't made a three-pointer (albeit on just two tries) in his four-year career.
As a team, Boston ranks just 24th overall in three-point accuracy (33.2 percent) despite attempting a healthy 36.8 a game (12th overall).
The Celtics have young talent, draft picks and a trio of notable trade exceptions ($17.1 million, $9.7 million and $5 million) to go shopping with, however.
Targets should include players like Eric Gordon (45.1 percent from three), Luke Kennard (44.2 percent), Bryn Forbes (40.8 percent) and Mike Muscala (44.3 percent). All would bring some much-needed floor spacing and give Tatum, Brown and Dennis Schroder options to kick the ball out to when driving.
There's too much talent on Boston's roster for the team to be this bad. Adding a shooter or two would make a big difference.
Zion Williamson/New Orleans Pelicans: Make This Year About Recovery, Not Wins
It's a major disappointment that NBA fans have yet to see Zion Williamson this season, a result of offseason foot surgery and setbacks.
After playing in 61 of the Pelicans' 72 games last season, the 21-year-old has missed the entire 2021-22 campaign and is out until the middle of January at the earliest after receiving a "biologic injection into the fracture site to stimulate bone healing in his right foot."
Foot surgery can naturally make it difficult to do cardio, which could explain why Williamson is reportedly up to 330 pounds, per ESPN's Tim McMahon. The Pelicans' official roster has him listed at 284.
As great as it would be to see Williamson return in January and help the Pelicans make a playoff push (they sit just two games out of the final play-in spot), both player and team need to take the best long-term approach, even if it means shutting the star forward down for the season.
Using this year to get his foot and conditioning right is the best course of action for everyone involved. If his weight is indeed over 300 pounds, putting Williamson back on the court is only asking for further damage to his foot, ankles or knees.
Both parties need to resolve to get Williamson back to a healthy weight with a fully healed foot, no matter how long it takes. The 2019 No. 1 overall pick is one of the most athletically gifted players we've seen in the NBA in a long time, as his 27.0 points on 61.1 percent shooting last season helps illustrate.
With another year left on his rookie deal, the Pelicans can run back a healthy team next season with Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Devonte' Graham, Josh Hart, Kira Lewis Jr., Herbert Jones, Trey Murphy III and Jaxson Hayes all under contract. There's no fear of any key piece leaving in free agency if New Orleans misses the 2022 playoffs.
Failing to return this year would be disconcerting for Williamson, but protecting his long-term future is far more important.
Portland Trail Blazers: Blow Up the Roster Around Damian Lillard
Since Thanksgiving, the Blazers have posted the worst net rating in the NBA (minus-10.5) while going 3-12 overall. Only the Detroit Pistons (1-14) have won fewer games. This has gone from a first-round-exit team to one that would be lucky to even make the play-in tournament now at 13-21 and in 12th place in the West.
While injuries have taken their toll, even a full-strength Blazers starting lineup (Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic) has barely registered a positive net rating (plus-0.8 in 274 total minutes)
Trading Lillard would fetch the greatest return, but Portland shouldn't be on the verge of this just yet. Not with a roster full of vets and young talent who have trade value. Interim general manager Joe Cronin has already stated the team will not be rebuilding, and that he plans to enhance the current roster instead, per Jason Quick of The Athletic.
Nurkic and Covington are both set to become unrestricted free agents, so seeing what the Blazers could get in return now before it's too late is a must. McCollum or Powell should probably be moved as well so that Portland can abandon its three-guard starting lineup.
Portland needs players who can defend around Lillard, who can still carry a team offensively. Ben Simmons, Myles Turner, Jerami Grant and Jaylen Brown (a dream target) should top the list.
This is a broken team that's gone as far as it can with this core. The Blazers' New Year's resolution should be to blow up the roster around Lillard, getting his input along the way.